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Christmas Wines Are in the Bag (in a Box)

Posted: 12/21/11 09:49 AM ET

There's a Christmas image that's burned into our minds of our late grandma. For decades she hosted Christmas at her house, and as the whole family filled every seat and floor space, she was a picture of hospitality, always ensuring a glass was never empty.

And while this was most generous, especially in a house bulging with aunties, uncles and cousins once-removed, this memory becomes a little less elegant when our dear old granny would open her antique sideboard to whip out a magnum of some bulk white wine -- opened about a week ago and kept at the balmy room temperature of 23 degrees Celsius (73.4 degrees Fahrenheit for those counting).

Judge if you will, but as the years went by we became experts at smuggling in our own wine and refilling in private moments.

As the holidays approach once more and our grandmother is no longer here to ensure our cups runneth over, we can't help but muse about those times and think how much easier -- and enjoyable -- things would have been if she had only gave into boxed wines.

They may not be glamourous, but they are practical; for somewhere in the ballpark of $40, you can get four litres of wine (as little as $1.88 a glass, for those counting) that producers say will last up to six weeks.

The engineering of the bag-in-a-box wine, as it is also known, is that wine fills a bladder and is poured through a spigot. As the wine depletes (no matter how fast), the bag will crumple and oxygen won't get in -- therefore prolonging the life of the wine. When the wine's finished, the whole thing collapses into the recycling.

But for those who find four litres just too much to swallow, there are also handy one-litre tetra packs for about $12, though most don't have a bladder and spigot, so the likelihood is that they will only last as long as an opened bottle will -- but the upside is they are so much lighter. Carrying four tetra packs home the other day was a breeze -- by comparison, carrying four 750 ml wine bottles home can start to nag after four blocks.

Economics, environment and jokes aside, in an era where we are embracing the screw cap as an acceptable -- and in some cases superior -- alternative to cork closures, why wouldn't the oenophile take the boxed wine for a test drive?

We did, and to be honest the biggest hurdle is getting over our own wine snobbery. Let's face it, boxed wines are not exactly the embodiment of sophistication, but despite all evidence to the contrary, they're not all bad. Just like their bottled counterparts, some are better than others and all appeal to different tastes, but in our humble opinion, it's a completely doable option -- especially when hosting a large crowd.

After trying a few for ourselves, we decided the biggest problem was the maneuverability. Four litres is not exactly demure, and plunking a large box in the middle of the Christmas feast may prove to be challenging. Even the one-litres are a bit bulky, but investing in a few decanters should take care of that problem -- and just like any wine, open it up for better drinking.

And it probably can go without saying, but bag-in-the-box wines are not meant for long-term cellaring, so if you have visions of pulling out your boxed wine in 2036 after allowing it to mature for 25 years in your cellar, you may be in for disappointment. But we're taking a stab that chances are good if you're going for boxed wines you aren't looking for a long-term ROI.

However, if you are looking for a good time on a bit of a budget, you will find some decent options that will please the crowd and please your wallet. Here's a few that we liked that are readily available just about everywhere.

Ciao Pinot Grigio -- 1000 ml.
A simple but pretty nose of tropical fruit and almond skin, this is a crowd-pleasing wine with a slightly bitter grapefruit/lemon pith finish.

French Rabbit Cabernet Sauvignon -- 1000 ml.
We were pleasantly surprised with this wine; with flavours of dark berry fruit, herbacious leafiness and sour red cranberry on the finish, this wine offers a bit more complexity than expected.

 

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